Adventures in hiking…

Author Archive

Kidnapped on the Trail

Image 3

…. He found the 550 para-cord in my backpack and used it to bind our hands behind our backs and to the trunk of a large manzanita bush.  We were beyond scared and prayed for deliverance knowing that when “el jefe” returned, we would be on our way south of the border to be held for ransom, or worse.  Dusk was coming quickly as I made eye contact with my wife and gave her a wink.

The Espinosa Trail is a well-known trek for locals in the greater San Diego area.  The goal is normally Corte Madera Mountain, a distinct rock formation on a plateau in the southern Cleveland National Forest.  I actually found the hike in our local guidebook while looking for something closer to home.  Normally, we would head north toward the San Bernardino Mountains.  Today would be a bit different with views of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

DSC_0465

View from the Espinosa Trail looking north.

We loaded up our packs with the typical days’ fare of 2-3 liters of water, a lunch and some extra snacks.  With the microclimate in this area the temperatures can vary 40-50 degrees within 60 miles, so we took our layers of clothing.

Making our way out on the I-8 freeway, we passed El Cajon and a handful of smaller communities in eastern SD county.  Zipping by the exit for Mt. Laguna, we noticed a Border Patrol checkpoint on the eastbound side.  The exit to the Corte Madera Mtn trailhead came up and we headed south toward the small town of Campo.  It’s well-known for the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  The southern terminus of the PCT is very close to the Mexican-U.S. border.  We turned down another road with a gravel washboard for a surface.  It bounced the heck out of us until we came up on a military installation (Navy SEAL training base) behind a barb-wired topped fence.  Of special note, we were behind a Border Patrol SUV.  Hmm, that is interesting, but we are near the border.  We also noticed that this road led to an Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) recreation area and noticed quite a few trucks pulling Jeeps and hauling dirt bikes.  The road changed to a mostly one-lane black top as we drove the 4 miles to the trailhead.

DSC_0463

The trailhead wasn’t labeled, but the gate to the private road was noted in the trail guidebook.  There was a USDA placard describing how this area is subject to closure due to the mating season of the raptors.   Like many trails, this one was diverse.  Beginning as a dirt road, we exited at a handmade trail sign sitting on top of a trash can.  “Espinosa Trail”, yes that’s the way.  Starting our 1,800 ft. climb we emerged into a nondescript area of chaparral and scrub.  Apparently, the Espinosa Creek was nearby, but there was no evidence of water.  We could see a fire tower in the distance, one of the last remaining ones in the county.  Emerging on a jeep trail, we took a right and proceeded up a winding dirt road to the next trail junction.  Noticed our second set of hikers today, but this would be a fairly uncrowded trail.  To the north was Hill 4588, as the Forest Service calls it on their maps.  Topped with Coulter pines, it was our first objective.  The trail narrowed and began a steep ascent.  Scrambling over rocks, this became the hardest part of the hike.  My wife – as nimble as a billy-goat going uphill,  steadily traversed the path.  I huffed and puffed while taking an occasional drink from my hydration pack.

DSC_0471

The cleft of a rock…

The view from Hill 4588 was nice as we could see for miles in every direction.  The trail was full of those senseless up-downs (SUDS) and we finally leveled out on a plateau.  Now, we could see the cliff, a notable 300 ft. drop into the canyon below.  We stopped, found a trail log and had our late lunch.  The view was amazing.  So this was Corte Madera!  The Pacific to the west, Mexico to the south and the rest of Cleveland National Forest to our north.  It was getting late as the days were getting short.  I estimated that we had less than two hours of daylight left.  We set a decent pace as our hiking poles helped us to skirt down the hill, the sun setting quickly behind the mountain.  We entered the last leg near the jeep road and I was looking forward to a hot shower to knock of the trail dust.

They came out of the bushes to our right and shouted something unrecognizable in spanish.  There were four of them, two with guns drawn.  Shocked, we dropped our hiking poles and raised our hands.  In broken english one of them pointed to the woods and said something like “go to there”. They herded us off the path about 50 yards or so into the woods.

DSC_0487

Next – Kidnapped on the Trail – Part II – Time for a Decision

I recommend these hiking poles.  They are lightweight and fairly sturdy.  Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue

We use this Nikon camera forour treks: Nikon D3300 DX-format DSLR Kit w/ 18-55mm DX VR II & 55-200mm DX VR II Zoom Lenses and Case


Grand Canyon – South Kaibab Trail

DSC_0879

Near Mather Point, South Rim

A winter hiking trip to the Grand Canyon has been on my bucket list for some time.  If you can hit it during mild weather, this year-round national park offers some beautiful scenery with fewer people than summer.

Last year on a return trip from visiting family back east, we carved out a couple of days to stop by here.  However, temperatures around 0 deg F near Williams, Az. knocked out the hope of hiking as the water froze the RV pump.

This year we hit it at the right time.  A winter storm had passed through before Christmas  which we ran into while eastbound.  During this visit, the temps were forecast to be in the 50’s during the day and high teens at night at our campground.  Trailer village, one of the commercially run sites within the park was fairly empty and ended up being a nice place to stay.

The visitor center of Grand Canyon National Park is a busy place, but we needed to find out the trail conditions for our hike the next day.  We planned for the South Kaibab, which was open and other than some ice near the top, showed good conditions.

The shuttle service along the South Rim is an awesome way to get around.  We made our way to Mather Point to watch the sunset and walked along the Rim Trail.  This is where most of the tourists hang out.  It was a leisurely walk with amazing views.  We talked about our hike the next day and noticed some lenticular clouds along the North Rim.

DSC_0880

Lenticular clouds along the North Rim

We’ve come to learn about cloud types and this type meant one thing – wind is coming.   Oh well, as long as it wasn’t like the hurricane force winds we encountered in Anza-Borrego last spring.

As the sun went down, the temperature dropped dramatically.  A stiff breeze brought the wind chill to around freezing.  We made our way back to a warm RV and made a nice pot of coffee.  Oh well, so much for roughing it.

By morning, the winds were gusty but overall a decent weather day.    We made our way to the shuttle and missed it.  While waiting for the next one, the sun made its way up, creeping over the trees and creating a sliver of sunlight.  We stood in the light and amazingly it was a few degrees warmer.

DSC_0926

Off the shuttle. Where are the people?

Catching the shuttle to the South Kaibab is fairly easy; they don’t allow cars there in the winter.  As we exited the warmth of the bus at the trailhead, it became obvious why we were the only ones that got off.  The wind was gusting 35-40mph and it was chilly.   We bundled up, found the trailhead and started down.  It starts out at 7,200 ft. and gets a bit of snow.  The dust swirled from every direction and we put our bandanas on to keep it out of our mouths and noses.  Within a few minutes, the only exposed skin was the area between our sunglasses and bandanas.

DSC_0930

Trying not to get blown off the trail.

There was spotty ice on the trail and we slowly made our way down.  The wind was buffeting my wife as we descended.  I hoped for a respite from the wind and within 5 minutes, we reached a protected area of the trail and adjusted our packs and clothing.  The wind and subfreezing temps were going to make this a challenging hike.  I estimated that it would warm as we went down and the winds should hopefully let up some.

The switchbacks near the top are frequent and fairly steep, but this is a well maintained and frequently traveled trail.  Soon, we would be passed by a small pack mule train.  While on the John Muir Trail last year, we saw over a dozen mule trains and it was usually easy to step aside and let them by.  Today, we backed up against the wall and the mules passed inches away.  The riders were friendly as they guided their train down a steep stair step that had been carved out of the canyon.

DSC_0941

We just can’t get away from the pack-trains.

We made our way down to Ooh-Ah Point which was appropriately named.

DSC_0949

Not that you could tell, but that sign reads “Ooh-Aah Point”

The next stop was Cedar Ridge and this one had a composting toilet-nice!    We started seeing more people and got back on the trail because it was still fairly cold here.  The wind never really let up on this hike.

The colors are really amazing in this area.  As the sun moves across the horizon, the canyon walls seem to change various hues.   We also noticed how short the daylight was and determined that while we could probably handle the physical part of a hike to the river below, we would run out of light.  The thought of trudging up as the temps dropped helped us to decide to stop at Skeleton Point.  Some trail riders came up as we were taking a break and they looked tired.  Must have been a rough night down there and the wind was taking its toll on them.

DSC_1008

As I glanced up the return path, dust devils were sporadically dancing across the trail and off the cliffs.  The hike back up was different in that it was 3 miles of uphill.  This would be a tough one in the summer as the elevation change is roughly 700 ft. per mile.  No water on this trail, so bring enough for an all day hike.  Just because it was cool doesn’t mean you need less.  We went through just over 2 liters each.

DSC_0940

The wind never really let up on this hike.  Admittedly, it was the windiest, dustiest hike we’ve been on.  Still, it was awesome and is worth the visit.  Next time, we may do Bright Angel and go all the way across.

DSC_0973

Dressed like a bandito on the South Kaibab Trail.


What Equipment Do I Need to Hike?

DSC_0708

You don’t need a pack mule for a day hike

After logging a few miles day hiking on various trails, we have come to understand why some people get into trouble while hiking.  From wearing flip-flops on rocky trails to not having any water on a hot hike,  many people think trails are a walk in the park.  I wonder how many people who went out on a day hike ended up spending the night in the wilderness?

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07

If you venture out more than a few miles on a day hike, it doesn’t hurt to bring along some “necessities”.

Here’s our short list:

  • Daypack
  • Hydration bladder or bottle
  • A good pair of hiking shoes or boots
  • Sock liners and merino wool socks
  • Synthetic shirts and pants.  Anything but 100% cotton
  • A hat with a brim
  • Sunglasses
  • The Ten Essentials (listed below)

The Ten Essentials-A list created in the 1930s by The Mountaineers:

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

DSC_0221

Good to have:

  • hiking poles
  • GPS
  • large trashbag – makes good raincoat
  • neckerchief-synthetic
  • portable water filter or water purifier tablets
  • toilet paper, antiseptic wipes.  You never know.
  • duct tape
IMG_1568

Keep going higher…

Generally on day hikes, we take more than we need.  More water, more snacks and a portable stove to brew that cup of celebratory tea at the summit.   For those extended backcountry trips, every ounce counts so we use a checklist and carry only what we need with a few backup items like lighters, batteries and spare socks.  Some gear buying tips-spend the money on shoes and a good pack.  Research the gear on the web and read the reviews.

This is a nice GPS locator that I use: SPOT 2 Satellite GPS Messenger –

Bottom line, start with the ten essentials, you can’t go wrong.    


Backcountry Tips and Lessons Learned

DSC_0463 Take it from this novice, if there are mistakes to be made in the backcountry, I will make them.  Here are a some of the most obvious, take em’ or leave em’ but consider how the simplest oversight will change your backcountry experience.

– Not using a checklist.  Oops, not enough toilet paper.   (Leaves are single-ply though)

– Check available water sources ahead of time:  Ranger station – Oh, sorry they’ve been furloughed! ,  online blogs.

– Check trail conditions at ranger station – Don’t forget the permit.  You can be a renegade and stealth camp.  That just sounds like fun.

– Bring a water filter or purification tablets.  Results from failure to do so will take 7-10 days.

– Take the proper clothing.  Cotton is almost always a no-no as it retains moisture.

– Bring a backpack cover or large trash bag for rain.

–  Enough food and a 1-2 day backup supply

– pre-cooked bacon is like manna

bear

Leave food in your backpack and this may happen to you.

– Bringing too much stuff – Setting your tent up on uneven ground or in a drainage area

– Not using a footprint under your tent and finding out there were sharp rocks there.

– Camping far from a water source

– Not bringing a mosquito net or bug repellant

– Not having adequate land navigation skills or maps makes for a longer hike

DSC06914

I came too close to this critter.

– Not having important spares like flashlights or matches

– Wearing shoes that fit just right and then finding out your feet swell another size and a half.

– Everyone smells bad after a few days in the backcountry

– Bees like Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap. Alot.

IMG_1514

Don’t pass up an opportunity to cool those jets. It’s the little things…

– Learned how important sock liners are.  They cut down on moisture and abrasion.

– Permethrin sprayed on your clothing ahead of time repels bugs.  This stuff works very well: Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent Trigger Spray, 24-Ounce

– Long sleeves, convertible pants and a headnet work better. Columbia Men’s Bahama II Long Sleeve Shirt

– Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap makes you feel all tingly.   Be careful where you use it.
DSC_0089 – Hiking in dark clothes in southern California is like wearing a solar panel.

– Light-colored clothing makes it easier to see the ticks.

– Leave the perfume and cologne at home and off of your skin.  Unless you want to attract bees, bears and moose’s in mating season.

– Take extra batteries.  Lithium ones last the longest but are expensive

– Learn the international rescue signals in case you need to signal the rescuer.  It would be bad if you needed help and gave the ok signal.

DSC06567

This will lift your spirits.

–  Hiking poles save the knees These are highly rated: Pair of Pace Maker Flip Lock “Expedition” Trekking Poles with Vulcanized Rubber Feet and Attachments

–  Rattlesnakes can blend in with the leaves.  Use hiking poles, chances are a rattler may strike the pole instead of your leg.

– Slow down, stop and take it all in.  You’ll be surprised what you can see and hear.

– Most wildlife doesn’t want anything to do with silly humans.

– I’m a tick magnet.  (not chick)

– I don’t fear most bugs, except ticks.

– Ticks almost always end up near the groin.

– Always let someone know where you are hiking, and for how long.

– Consider getting an emergency beacon or GPS locator, especially if you do a bit of solo hiking.  Read my blog “Bitten by a Rattler on the Pacific Crest Trail”

– If you have pets at home, especially cats – check your pack before you leave.  They like to leave presents or hide inside things.

DSC_0725

Slow down and you’ll be amazed at what you see.

– Bear canisters can be hard to open when its cold or wet.  Try opening one ahead of time for practice.  When camping, turn them on the side to keep rain-water out.

– While in the backcountry, if you pack it in, you should always pack it out.  Except for poop and used toilet paper, that’s where I draw the line.  If you hike Mt. Whitney, take care of your “business” ahead of time or you must use the wag bag.  Yuck.

– Campfires are great for morale.  Sadly, many areas out west in the backcountry prohibit them due to the risk of wildfires.

Bottom line,  life’s lessons are better learned from others’ mistakes.


Crossing Streams and Other Bodies of Water

JRP_0040

On the Appalachian Trail

So, this is the real McCoy.  My previous blog was written for fun during my furlough.

If you hike long enough in the backcountry, you will inevitably have to do a water crossing.  It may be on a log, stepping on rocks, or fording through it.  Over the past several years, I have done quite a few crossings and  learned a lot along the way.

Honestly, I didn’t know much about the topic beforehand so I researched the Internet, read about it in my backpacking field guide and various articles in Backpacker magazine.  I’ll share my experience crossing various bodies of water including an ocean inlet, streams, creeks, brooks and rivers.  By no means am I an authority on water crossings – it’s mostly common sense.  If crossing over or through water intimidates you, you are not alone – it’s very common.   With a little planning and will power, you can conquer this.

My first real water crossings were on the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine.  This remote part of the Appalachian Trail has plenty of water.  There were two of us and we used the buddy system on some crossings.  

DSC06473

A rope was handy while crossing the Little Wilson in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Methods for crossing (Fording the body of water)

 Always – Put on your water shoes, roll up your pants.    Loosen your backpack straps and unbuckle the sternum and waist strap.  This may help if you slip.  A pack can pull you under. 

Solo – Facing upstream, use hiking poles. side step and try to keep three points in contact with the bottom at all times.

Two or more – Couple of methods here.  You can face upstream, lock arms and side step your way across.  You can also form a single file and face upstream.  The person in the front forms a barrier.  Place the weakest at the back of the line where there is less resistance to the current.

DSC06461

Hazards

Swollen, fast current.  This is a judgement call.  My general rule is if the current is fast, I don’t usually cross if it’s higher than my waist.  It’s difficult to keep your footing in a strong current with a slippery bottom.

Obstacles.  Never cross upstream close to logs, tangles or debris in the water.  If you slip, you may end up getting sucked under the obstacle.

Rapids, bends, waterfalls.  Avoid crossing near these if possible.  Water flows faster in curves and bends.  Rapids are full of hidden hazards.  Slip near a waterfall and well, you know…

Temperature.  A cold mountain stream will numb your legs and feet within a couple of minutes.  It can be shocking and cause you to panic.  Move as quickly as possible to avoid cramps.

DSC_0042

Some thoughts here.  Did you know in Maine (other parts of New England as well) a brook is what most of us would call a stream or creek?  A stream can be a large creek or what many out west would call a river.

Crossing over on a log

This is challenging if you are afraid of heights.  The sound of rushing water just adds to the fear factor.   I find it easiest to hold my poles out like a tightrope walker as it provides a bit more balance.  One foot in front of the other and keep moving.  If you are with others, it may help to carry the pack of the person who is struggling.  That 30-40 lb pack lets you know that it’s there.  Unbuckle the waist and sternum, loosen the shoulder straps.  If you do fall, roll out of the pack to avoid getting pulled under.

1073140_10151722519664672_945620624_o

Crossing on rocks, boulders

Choose your stones wisely.  Most rock crossings are on shallow streams and creeks.  I often use my poles for more stability and have slipped off many rocks.  Your best tool here is a pair of hiking shoes with sticky soles like the Camp Four 5-10’s.   Avoid moss-covered ones and test to see if the rocks are wobbly.  Boulder hopping with a full pack is tricky.  Lean to far and you’re going in.   Believe me, I know.

DSC06507

River night crossing on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. That’s my friend’s headlamp

Night Crossing

While I’ve done a few, it’s a bit sketchy.  Always use a headlamp and test the water depth with your hiking poles.

Equipment:  You really don’t need much, but here are some ideas.

Water shoes – A good pair of waterproof shoes provides traction and forms a barrier between your feet and a rocky bottom.  Hiking shoes with good soles for rock hopping.

Trekking poles – Gives you that third or fourth leg for added stability.  Also can be used to pull you out if you fall.

Paracord – If you need to fasten it to your buddy, it can provide some assurance.

Extra socks – It’s no fun to hike in wet socks.

DSC_0815

Umm, don’t cross here.  Nevada Falls, Yosemite

My hardest water crossing was an unplanned one.  On a beach hike, my wife and I crossed a tidal inlet to a lagoon at low tide.  On our return, the tide was rushing in and the 10 foot crossing at 1 foot deep became a 50 ft. wide crossing up to our shoulders.  We put our daypacks above our heads, locked arms and barely made it across.  Before and during the crossing, I briefed her what to do if we lost our footing.  Fortunately, the current was coming into the lagoon.  If the current had been going out, I doubt we would have risked it.

We’ve run across many solo hikers in the backcountry where there are an abundance of water crossings.   It’s all the more important to understand the hazards when you are alone.   Find the safest place to cross and never cross at night when you’re alone, it’s just not worth it.

DSC_0562

Sometimes, you gotta jump

Some final thoughts.  Hike long enough and you will have to cross water.  With the proper gear and techniques, it’s just mind over matter.


Backcountry Hiking: How not to Cross Streams and Other Bodies of Water

DSC_0153

If you hike in the backcountry long enough you will eventually come across a brook, stream, creek, river or ginormous mud puddle.  You will be faced with a decision.  Do I cross it, go around or turn back?

I once came upon a large mud puddle filled with the smelliest black mud ever on the Appalachian Trail and noticed half of someone’s hiking pole.  Wow, that was a run-on sentence.  I wondered, where the other half was and if the person fell into the bog. Actually did meet the owner of the broken pole at a lean-to later.  I did make it across the bog and learned how to do the splits that day.  Now, I can sing tenor.

Most of you will cross the creek, especially if there is a bridge.  I’m sure there are some out there that even have bridge phobias.   Kind of like driving on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and realizing midway that 23 mile long bridges with little or no guard rails scare the crap out of you.

What if there isn’t a bridge when you come upon that creek that is swollen to twice its’ size due to the thunderstorm that just occurred?  No fear, the purpose of my blog is to help you.  Actually, blogging just gives me something to occupy my time during my government furlough and keeps me from writing angry letters to my representatives.

Let’s assume there are no bridges, logs or rocks to step on to cross this creek.  You have many options, most require some prior preparation.  Still, you always have options in life.  Unless you are a congressional representative up for re-election that is.

Your first choice for crossing is this:

drawing1

The manly way to cross

Of course this method requires rope or a homemade hemp vine found only where they grow marijuana in the national forests of California.

The next method still involves rope, but it must be fastened to something on both sides of the creek.  Once, there was a rope strung across the Little Wilson Stream in the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness, but it was too high to reach.  Very funny.

drawing2

The monkey bar method

Hiking with a friend certainly makes it easier to cross water, especially when you have to ford it.

drawing3

The buddy system. Dude on top has four eyes. No, really.

The buddy system, while loads of fun when doing chicken fights in the neighborhood pool can be especially treacherous with 40 lb. packs.  Always remember to loosen your straps and unbuckle those waist fasteners.

Sometimes, the body of water requires something more than rope and a friend.    There are places in the middle of nowhere that require a boat ride to get to your resupply.  Why do they always put it on the other shore?  And why can’t you blow the horn more than once to get picked up?

drawing4 1

Don’t be a sissy.

I mean, really.  Who gets off the trail to resupply at some resort?   It’s only 40 miles to the next town.

So, there you have it.  The most common ways to cross water.  Why is it in Maine that a brook is bigger than a creek and a stream is wider than a river?  Everywhere else it’s not that way.  Well, maybe in other parts of New England.  But, they were here first, so I guess they can call it what they want.  Ayuh, that’s wicked cool.

P.S. – I must be passive aggressive because the WordPress grammar checker always underlines my writing and accuses me of “passive voice”.


Big Pine Creek North Fork – Palisade Glacier – This Place Has It All

Palisade Glacier

Days 2-3 on the Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail…

Waking up the next morning, I noticed the condensation on the tent.  The rainfall last night raised the humidity a bit and these single wall tents can build up moisture if not ventilated.  I had closed the side flaps to keep the rain from bouncing into the tent.

As I went to the creek to filter some water, it was noticeable that the color was slightly turquoise and a bit cloudy.  Earlier this year I replaced my sturdy 2-bag Sawyer filter and picked up a Katadyn model.  We used it on the JMT and it is fast and effective.  Later, I would find out why the water was this color.

After breakfast, I tried to dry the tent out by wiping it down but ended up packing it up wet.  The forecast was for cooler temps and a lower chance of thunderstorms.   Breaking camp, I noticed several hikers had already passed.  Many of the day hikers stay in the campgrounds below and hit the trail early.  Labor Day weekend would prove to be a busy time in this area.

The aspens and Jeffrey Pines gave way to firs and lodgepole pines mostly clustered near the north fork of Big Pine Creek.  The creek has magnificent cascades and areas of slower, lazy currents as the terrain flattens out.  Fishing looks good down there.

The trail enters an area where the vegetation comes up to the edge of the trail and you cross several brooks and streams that drain into the creek.  I imagine that in late spring, early summer the water is fairly high through here.  I took a break about 10 ft. off the trail and about fifteen day hikers passed by.  Not that I was hiding, but none of them ever saw me.  I’ve finally learned how to become one with the environment.   Also learned that when hikers are exerting  themselves,  they can only see about three feet-straight ahead.

DSC_0116

Around the three-mile mark, I reached a junction by a stream.  The trail to the left was more popular and provided a more gradual climb.  I watched a small pack-train and eight horseback riders take that trail.  Most others were going that way too. I chose the path to Black Lake and began an immediate climb on an exposed slope, but was rewarded with some neat views of the turquoise glacier fed lakes below.

DSC_0089

Black Lake

Passing 9,000 ft the chaparral gave way to conifers and the slope levels out as it approaches Black Lake.  Appropriately named, the water was darker than the glacier fed lakes below.  This area isn’t as popular as lakes 1-5, so if you are seeking solitude, it’s a great location.   Finding a flat area for a tent far enough from the trail is a bit of a challenge, but I noticed several spots.  I pressed on to 5th Lake for a late lunch.

I climbed a large granite rock and was rewarded with clouds passing nearby.  Around 10,000 ft., the air was crisp and noticeably cooler.  The trail passes by a small 6th Lake, as you make your way through tall grasses near the shore.

DSC_0093

Eventually, I arrived at a junction.  Bear right and you can go to 5th Lake, a popular lunch gathering for the day hikers.  I found a nice sunny spot on an outcropping where I watched the anglers pull in rainbow trout.  After a while, I felt like a lizard sunning itself on the rocks.

DSC_0103

Fifth Lake

I met some people from the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club.   They were probably in their 70’s and slowly made their way down the trail.   It’s usually humbling for me to meet older people in the backcountry, especially when the trail is tough.

Making my way down, I came up on a junction where some people were taking a break.  For some reason, I took a right and within 15 minutes knew that it was the wrong way.  I was heading up to the glacier.  While this would be a nice day hike, my full pack convinced me to turn around.  This time, when I reached the junction, I noticed the trail sign indicating the Glacier Trail.

The trail starts dropping quickly with multiple short switchbacks.  Much of the trail is exposed and it was warm.  Descending, the turquoise lake came into view.  The bank is steep but there are paths to the water.  Most of the day hikers come here in the summer to take a dip in the milky-blue-green water.

I started looking for a campsite near the lake and/or creek but the trail for the most part is a hundred feet above the shore.   Most of the choice campsites were taken so I trudged on.  Almost picked a spot on top of a flat granite boulder, but the sheer drop into the creek convinced me otherwise.  Yeah, I imagined getting up in the middle of the night when nature called…..

I ended up near the stream where the pack-train came through and filtered some water.  A couple of ladies came by and one, with a Swedish accent said that she had been drinking unfiltered stream water for many years.  She dunked her Nalgene in there and took a big swig.    I went upstream a bit since I watched the mules pee in the same stream the day before.  I’ll stick with the filtered  water thank you.   The Swedish woman told me the reason for the turquoise color in the lake was glacial ice.   She was partially correct, the glacier creates the color as it grinds its’ way over the rock and makes the silty, glacial milk.  During early spring, the melting snow dilutes the water and the color is not as distinct.

I backtracked and found a fairly flat area that appeared to be a vernal pond.  Unpacking the wet tent, I placed it in the sun and opened it up to dry it out.

DSC_0124

I almost camped on this ledge. Prudence won out.

DSC_0165

Last campsite. It rained for the second straight night.

I would later see a picture of my last campsite under water.  Seems that it is a vernal pond during the spring melt.

Big-Pine-Creek14

The same campsite during the spring. Photo credit: http://www.chayacitra.com/

Making camp early gave me plenty of time to get some housekeeping done and explore the area.  The chipmunks were having a field day in the surrounding trees.  Kerplunk, kerplunk! as the green pine cones hit the ground.  Their incessant chattering made me want to throw rocks at them but I resisted.  After all, this is their neighborhood.

Campsite sunrise 1

Sunrise from the camp.

Sunset is amazing up here as the shadows on the craggy peaks provide a different perspective.  The breeze picked up and I closed the flaps on the tent.  Just after sunset, it started raining and I drug my belongings into the foyer of the tent.  It was a steady rain.  The distant waterfalls on Second Lake and the rain pushed me into an early sleep.

Dawn brought a nice Sierra sunrise, partially obscured by clouds and the surrounding peaks.  I was on the trail before long, only 5 miles from the trailhead.  The walk down was peaceful, coming across two fishermen and an early morning pack-train.  This area has it all – moderate hiking,  water, fishing, and enough scenery to satisfy the most avid photographer.  I highly recommend this trail – just don’t do it on holiday weekends.

Check out my new blog at:  http://mycaliforniadreamin.wordpress.com/

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


Encounter With a Mountain Lion on the Pacific Crest Trail

Mountain_Lion_night_1

Mountain Lions hunting while we sleep..

I shined my headlamp in the direction of the rustling sound.  What I saw made the hair rise up on the back of my neck.  Forty feet away, two yellow eyes were staring right at me.  I yelled at the eyes but they only blinked and did not shift.  This was now a chess game and it was my move…

It was late spring in southern California and I was hiking another 100 mile section of the PCT.  I couldn’t take the five or six months off of work to hike it in its’ entirety;  well that and my wife wouldn’t appreciate my extended absence.  Thru-hikers that trek the entire 2600+ miles are special in the sense that they are driven to spend days of solitude, pain and hunger to accomplish the task.  Me, I was content to eak out another section of this glorious trail. Emerging from the Mojave Desert, I felt like a beat up fender in an auto body shop.  The sandblasting effectively removed one or two layers of skin.  My tent survived the 50mph gusts, the ground-hog stakes worth every dime.    Hiking at night, my encounters with scorpions were frequent and uneventful.  The tent was zipped up tight to keep out those critters.

Eventually, crossing Hwy 58 in the early morning, I realized that I was technically entering the Sierras.  It still looked like a desert, but with foothills.  Eventually, there were some trees and shade.  Taking a break near a stream that I had almost missed, I thought about not having seen anyone since the highway.  Sometimes on the PCT, you can go all day without seeing another human.   Not one to use a headset while hiking, I began to hum and sing to myself.  Those good ol’ gospel tunes that were stuck in my head since childhood.   As I was filtering some water, I sensed that something else was around but didn’t think much of it.  If you hike solo long enough, you tend to not worry about the boogeyman.  Besides, I often carry a “stinger” when in the backcountry.  While the likelihood of being accosted out here is slim, my little pistol provided me with peace of mind.

Around the 12 mile mark, I started looking for a suitable campsite.  Something near the trees, no widowmakers (big dead trees) and not in a gulley where a flash flood would wash me away.  The wind had died down and it was quiet and calm.  One of the first things to do is pitch the tent and get my bedding situated. I  prepared my food about 50 ft away from my tent and the Ramien noodles cooked quickly.  This is a great meal when you just don’t have an appetite, but need to eat.  Add a little pita and it fills you up.  As my daughter recently explained to me – Ramien means noodle in Korean.  Why would we call it Noodle noodles?  Hearing a branch snap got my attention and I thought that maybe another hiker was coming through.  Most of the PCT thru hikers had passed through last week, but there were some stragglers that were taking advantage of the famous hospitality and trail magic in this area.  After a few minutes and no hikers, I didn’t think anything of it and went about my camp chores.

JRP_0044 (2)

The last bit of sun in the southern Sierras.

Sunset was coming quickly; the colors from the desert would gradually change the cumulus clouds various hues of purple and pink as the horizon turned a darker shade of blue.  I think that sunsets are more enjoyable – maybe because I’m awake.  It’s hard for me to enjoy the beauty of a sunrise until I’ve had that first cup of coffee.  No campfires tonight, most of this area is under a fire ban.  Many of the wildfires around here are caused by campers and hunters who are careless with their fires.  I carry two lights, one a portable LED lantern that hangs from the tent and my headlamp for when nature calls.  At my age, nature calls often – especially when you drink several liters of water each day.  Since I was entering into the Sequoia National Forest, I carried a bear canister for my food and stowed it 50 ft. away from camp.

When camping alone, I often hit the sack early.  At home, seven hours of sleep is good.  Here, eight or nine broken hours of sleep is ok.  As I switched off the lantern, I heard a shuffling sound out in front of the tent.  I listened intently.  It was quiet, the crickets were the only other sound.  I counted the cricket chirps for 14 seconds , ok 10 chirps, add 40 – that’s 50 degrees out.  It’s an old trick that I read about, count a cricket’s chirp for 14 seconds, add 40 and you can estimate the temperature within a few degrees.  I discounted the shuffling for some skunks or racoon and was almost asleep when I heard it again.  Ok, have to see what this is.  I put on my headlamp and unzipped the door on the tent.  Not wanting to tick off a skunk, I stayed in the door of the tent and scanned the area nearby.  I was in a small clearing, near some scrub brush.  As my lamp scanned the forest, I froze when a pair of yellow eyes appeared about 40 ft. away.  The eyes were about two feet off the ground.  The first thing I did was to yell, like “Hey, get outta here!”  It didn’t move.  I grabbed my whistle from within the tent and blew on it.  No good.  Whatever it was didn’t move.  I was thinking should I leave the relative safety of the tent to scare this away or should I stay here and make some noise?

I decided to confront whatever it was to show who was in charge here.  Grabbing my hiking poles and cooking pot, I went out the front of my tent and banged the pot, raised the poles over my head and walked a few steps toward the creature.   Adrenaline must have been surging through my body because my ears started ringing.  I kept my distance, continuing to make noise and that’s when it became apparent who my visitor was.  My headlamp illuminated the body of a mountain lion!   It slid away in the brush with its’ long tail twitching on the end.   This creature didn’t run from me, it just walked away.  I had almost forgotten about the small pistol tucked within my waistband.  Not in the mood for hunting a cougar, I retreated to my tent and turned on the lamp.

Within 10-15 minutes, there was shuffling outside the tent.  This time it was to the left.  Oh boy, this was going to be a long night.   I banged on my pot and blew the whistle for a bit and waited.  Now, the crunching sound was behind my tent.  This critter was circling my tent trying to reconnoiter its’ prey.  Knowing that I couldn’t go to sleep with a predator stalking me and the thin-walled tent would not provide protection, I decided to go on the offensive.  I got my camera with the flash ready and in the other hand my pistol.  I really didn’t want to shoot the big cat but needed to scare it away.  Emerging from my tent, I turned my headlamp on to the brightest setting.  The light caught the yellow eyes and I pointed my camera in the general direction and started taking a few night pics.  After a few flashes, it took off and I could hear the shuffling grow fainter.  Here’s what I saw:

Mountain-Lion-at-Night

It was a long night after that.  Like a little kid, I left the light on and laid there listening.  Chirp, chirp, chirp……   At one point, I remember thinking about my GPS locator.  Normally, it’s used to send my position with an OK message to my family and friends.  However, underneath a protective flap is the SOS button.  If I was in dire straits or hurt then I would press it.  I can hear it now:  “You pressed the SOS button for a big kitty?  Come on man!!!”  The thought did cross my mind though.

Not really being able to sleep, I would cat-nap until sunrise.  After eating some oatmeal, I checked out the area and must have flushed out some quail which scared me more than the mountain lion.  I ended up going back to my tent to catch a few hours rest.  I was awakened by the scream of a wild cat ripping into my tent.  Sitting up in my sleeping bag, I struggled to unzip it to reach for my gun.

blphotos-cougar5

Mountain Lion in woods. Photo credit – Darren Smith

Within a few seconds, I realized that I had been dreaming.  My tent was intact and there was no cougar attacking me.  I decided to pack up and hit the trail.  After all, there was 53 miles of trail to cover. 🙂

——————————————————————————————

If you haven’t figured out by now, this is one of my fictional blogs.  While there are mountain lions in the western most sixteen states and Florida, encounters with humans are rare.  However, this past summer an Australian PCT thru-hiker was harassed by a mountain lion all night in the Sierras.  She actually did a video of her incident and pressed the SOS button on her SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger – Orange messenger.  The cat never attacked, but it took over six hours for rescuers to show up.   While it is unusual for these big cats to stalk humans, they are predators and can view us as prey.  In daylight, your best defense is to appear as large as possible and raise hiking poles or sticks over your head and make a lot of noise.  Never run or crouch down as this may trigger their instinct to attack.  When hiking with children in mountain lion country, it’s best to keep them close by. To my knowledge, mountain lions have never attacked humans in a tent.

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


How I Convinced My Wife to do Backcountry Hiking

Big Pine Creek Clouds2

The title should really have peaked your interest.  How does a husband convince their wife to do anything? As we say in the military – here’s the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):  It takes time.

Most things worthwhile take some effort.  Typical of our manly ways, we tend to go for the gusto – straight away.  Backcountry, or multi-day hikes take a bit of planning especially for someone who has never been.  Specifically on the backcountry hiking,  it’s easier when you live in an area that is conducive to camping and hiking.  Either that or you have enough time and money to vacation in beautiful wilderness areas.

Living in southern California, we are within a days’ drive of the High Sierras which has made it uber-easy to do this outdoor activity.  However, every state in the union has locations for hiking.  From the Appalachian to the Continental Divide to the Pacific Crest Trails, including the national and state forests – there are many areas where you can get off the beaten path. Imagine Denali in amazing Alaska, or Waimea State Park on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

For me, I was determined to do an outdoor activity with my wife that we could enjoy together.  We started by day hiking.  I bought a book on trails within San Diego County and we began going out on Saturdays.   We would pack a lunch and make a day of it.  The more secluded, the better.  Eventually, the hikes got longer with more elevation change.  While flat terrain is a good break, the challenge of a good cardio workout made it more than a walk in the woods.

IMG_1528

We would mix up mountain hiking with desert treks as the seasons allowed.  We developed a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for the creation.  As believers, we observed God’s handiwork in the land and His animals.   We also enjoyed each others’ company as we took breaks and drove to/from our hikes.   The time in the car is a great time to talk about your marriage – and life.  

You really don’t have to be equals as far as physical conditioning.  In our case, she kicks my butt on the trail.  However, consider the physical condition of your spouse.  Start out with easy, short hikes and make a date out of it.  It helps to start out with a trek that has awesome scenery.   End with a sunset and/or dinner at a new café. We’ve discovered some decent eateries while out on the road.  We also established a tradition of celebrating with a cup of hot tea after reaching each summit.   

There were times when I pushed us too hard or it was too hot, but we learned from our mistakes.  Once, we were almost swept into a lagoon in a rushing tidal inlet.  We often share that story with others and always laugh.  Another time, we got off track on a snow-covered mountain in the Sierras and bushwhacked for a couple of hours.  Every year, there are new stories to share.

DSC_0639

Day hiking presented an opportunity to do some camping.  We eventually combined car camping with some hikes.   If your spouse hasn’t camped before, car camping is a great intro.  It allows for conveniences like coolers, chairs and bathrooms.  If your kids are grown, go to campgrounds when school is in session.  Much less crowded…. 

During this time, we also visited epic locations like Yosemite.    Some places just leave you yearning for more.  The Sierras are this way.  I imagine the Rockies and so many other areas are similar.  Eventually, we did a 3 day backcountry trip to the highest peak in our area – San Gorgonio.  It was difficult, but rewarding. It really proved that she could hike in the backcountry with a full pack and sleep in the wilderness.  We still laugh about being awakened at midnight by the spotlight of a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s helicopter looking for a lost hiker.  Wilderness hiking builds memories.

I won’t exaggerate, it took a few years to get my wife into the backcountry on an extended trip.  We worked up to it.  I made sure that her needs were taken care of and that she felt safe.  I gradually built up trust and gained some knowledge on our wilderness treks.  Over the years, We’ve been lost a few times, but a handy GPS and some map skills would get us back on track.

I really could have made this blog a lot shorter by stating that backcountry hiking with your spouse (or significant other) isn’t going to happen quickly.  Start out with day hikes, progress to car camping and do a short backcountry trip that has awesome scenery.  “Now you’re cooking with peanut oil”  Phil Robertson-Duck Dynasty, A&E.

DSC_0131


Big Pine Creek North Fork – Palisade Glacier – Day 1

DSC_0148

2nd Lake, Big Pine Creek – North Fork

Tucked away on a mountain road near the eastern Sierra town of Big Pine is the entrance to one of the most amazing getaways.  The Big Pine Creek collection of campgrounds, lakes and trails are magnificent.

This trip was a last-minute adventure.  My wife was back east helping out with a new grandchild and I knew that I didn’t want to sit around over the long Labor Day weekend.  The Sierras are only 4-5 hours away from San Diego, so I packed up my gear and headed toward the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center in Lone Pine to get my backcountry permit.  I researched a few areas to hike and was prepared to “settle” for whatever was available.  Normally, this holiday weekend is one of the busiest up here.  You should especially avoid Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne unless your plans are very flexible.  One could write a blog on the best ways to get backcountry permits.  The trails in the various areas are under the jurisdiction of the USFS or National Parks and traffic is controlled through the use of permits.  About 40% of permits are reserved for walk-ins, the rest can be reserved through recreation.gov for a small fee.

DSC_0142

The visitor center was actually not that busy and I was able to easily obtain the permit for the Pine Creek North Fork trail.  Another 40 minutes and I was in Big Pine.  The sign on the road that takes you to the trail is fairly obscure and starts out as Crocker Rd.  The road passes through a neighborhood and gradually climbs several thousand feet.  The rocky, desert landscape starts to change as you approach the sub-alpine area where the campgrounds are.  The aspen and Jeffrey Pines are abundant in the lower elevations and I imagine that this is even more beautiful as the deciduous trees change in the fall.

The overnight parking lot for the hikers comes up on the right.  There is plenty of room, but I found out that the trailhead is almost a mile away.  Oh well, I needed to loosen up a bit.  I passed the pack-train corral and noticed signs for the various campgrounds and Glacier Lodge.  It was fairly busy in the camps as people were getting in their last bit of summer vacation.  The trailhead is well marked at the end of the road.  There is limited day use parking at the end and I recommend to drop off your gear if there are two or more hikers.

The trail wastes no time in elevation change as the steep, short switchbacks get the heart beating.  You cross the first footbridge and the creek is rapidly descending through cascades and waterfalls.  Normally, this time of year many of the creeks in the Sierras are dry.  Not here, the Palisade Glacier ensures a year-round flow.  The trail meanders through the forest but stays close to the creek.  The rushing water provides the assurance that you can follow it all the way up to its’ source.

DSC_0116

View from Black Lake trail

After the second footbridge, the trail gradually climbs the canyon and then flattens out for a bit.  The riparian environment changes to a desert landscape with some cactus hiding under the chaparral.  The trail diverges from the creek, but never far enough to lose sight or sound.  Occasionally, the sound of the cascading water is an indicator that you will be climbing again.  The louder the water, the steeper the incline.  I’m a simple guy, so I tend to associate simple things you know.

One of the things I love about hiking in the Sierras is the change in eco-systems as you ascend the trails.  You can start out in an arid desert and pass through riparian areas to sub-alpine forests with deciduous trees, followed by alpine forests and end up in snow-covered peaks above the tree line.  It’s so cool to see the flora change while you hike.  This trail appears to dead-end in a canyon and one knows there is only one way out – and that is up.  The path diverges from the creek and the long switchbacks quickly take you above 8,500 ft. Evidence of the pack trains litters the trail where their path emerges from the corral.  Fortunately, the trail is wide enough to step around the mule doodles.  The trail is well maintained with many man-made steps carved from the granite.  You round the corner near a significant cascade and the view is impressive.  Temple Crag comes into sight and the trail rises above the creek.  During the afternoon, the wildlife was missing but imagine that this is a place where deer would hang out.

Big-Pine-Creek05

Big Pine Creek – North Fork – First Fall

Due to my late start and occasional thunder, I started looking for a campsite.  100 ft. from water and trail, that makes it a bit harder.  Well, that and a flat spot for the tent that isn’t in a wash or drainage area.  I found a suitable spot under some fir trees and set up the tent quickly.  The two-person Eureka tent has been a good one.  Lightweight and easy to set up.  The bugs were almost non-existent.  Mosquitoes are bad here in early summer, but this was perfect.  Dinner was a Mountain Home chicken and noodle- too much for one person.  The housekeeping routine when you camp solo is a bit different.  Normally, you split chores like setting up the tent, getting water and cooking but tonight it was all mine.  Within 45 minutes, it started sprinkling and by 7 p.m. a steady rain ensued.  Fortunately, the lightning was distant and the trees seemed to reduce the impact of the rain.

Combined with the drive and a couple of hours of hiking, the rain was a natural sleep machine.  The pitter-patter on the tent was peaceful and the rushing creek was a great combination.  I was asleep by 8:30.

Next: This place has it all

We use the Nikon 3300 series for most of our pics.  An easy to use camera a step up from the entry-level model. Nikon D3300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR with AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II Zoom Lens (Black)


San Gabriel Mountains – Icehouse Canyon via Chapman Trail

IMG_1440

U.S.D.A. Identifier: Icehouse Canyon

Type of trail: As hiked – a modified loop

Distance as hiked: 7.5 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,400 ft., Top of trail-7,234 ft.

Temps: 75-85 degrees

Difficulty: moderate

Trail Composition: dirt, rock, scree

Fees:  Day use fee  or Adventure Pass

Due to recent fire in San Jacinto area, we ventured back to the Mt. Baldy area.  We haven’t been there since last summer and there are tons of trails to explore.  Today, we picked Icehouse Canyon.  My blogging buddy “Hiking Angeles Forest” knows this area well and has written extensively on the San Gabriels.

Be sure to pick up your permit at the Visitor Center in Baldy Village.  The volunteer on duty was friendly and we were on our way in minutes.  The trailhead is approximately 1.5 miles up the road with a well marked sign on the right.  The parking lot for the trail is large, mainly because this is a busy trail.  Too busy for my liking, but it is a summer weekend and there is water near the trail.

The path is well marked as you navigate your way around boulders.  Going up, a canyon wall is on the left and there are old cabins along the trail next to a creek.  This creek appears to run year-round with several nice cascades.  We would take the Chapman Trail on the left around the one mile mark.  Most of the people were continuing on Icehouse Canyon.  Actually most of the lowlanders were hanging around the creek.  The Chapman trail was less crowded and provided decent solitude – even for a Saturday afternoon.

IMG_1438

We stopped for lunch at Cedar Glen Camp, a relatively flat area with – you guessed it – cedars.   It was a bit buggy for this late July day, the gnats were annoying, but at least they weren’t mosquitos.  After lunch, we began a gradual climb, emerged from the woods and entered an area of chaparral.  You could see where parts of the area burned and the new growth appeared to be between 7-10 years old.

IMG_1426

The trail broke out as we hiked through talus and slides.  We trekked along a cliff with drop offs that were 500 ft. or more.  If you are afraid of heights, this is not the trail for you.  Heck, if you are afraid of heights, you probably shouldn’t be hiking.  It was exciting and the views to the west were great.

IMG_1434

Hitting the junction to Icehouse Canyon Saddle, we took a right and began a quick descent.  I can imagine that this would be a fun climb in the winter and envisioned what it was like to snowshoe up here.  Haven’t done that yet, but we are planning to try out some snowshoe day hikes this winter.  The Chapman trail would actually be sketchy in the winter unless you had some crampons and an ice axe.

The path from the Chapman Trail junction down would wind its’ way along a mostly dry creek and would criss-cross the canyon several times.   We were keeping our eye on a helicopter that was flying circles about 3-4 miles to our west toward Mt. Baldy.  Soon, we saw smoke near the helicopter’s path.  We picked up the pace a bit just in case.  We still had two miles to go.   I took the opportunity to discuss how we would handle a fire if it breached the hill.  Canyons are not the best place to be in a fire as they tend to concentrate the flames.  I pointed out areas of scree and talus on the slopes to the east where there was less fuel.  Not ideal, but our choices would be limited.   We could also soak our neckerchiefs with water and place them over our mouths/noses if needed.

After 20-30 minutes, the smoke diminished so whatever it was appeared to be under control.  Hike with us and you are assured to have an adventure.  Nearing the trailhead, we laughed at the sign warning the fishermen.

IMG_1442

All in all, Icehouse Canyon – Chapman Trail is a nice hike.  Best done during the week or late on the weekend.  It was good to review some wilderness skills like wildfire procedures.  I’ve learned so much by reading other blogs and resources on the Internet.  If you are old fashioned like me and enjoy the feel of a book, then The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Revised and Updated: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Backcountry Skills by Rick Curtis is an excellent resource.  Enjoy your hike friends, and take someone with you to enjoy the beauty of this great land.


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 7 – The Last Day

DSC_0834

Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God’s wild fields, we find more than we seek.

John Muir – My First Summer in the Sierra

The last day was bittersweet.  Ready to finish our week on the trail, we broke camp after a light breakfast.  We filtered water at the creek last night and the flow was just a trickle, full of water bugs.  The mosquitoes were relentless at the creek and we were glad that we didn’t camp near there.  Generally, it’s not a great idea to pitch your tent near calm or stagnant water. 🙂

The John Muir trail guide was very helpful as it listed plenty of campsites – all were spot on.  Today, as we made our way toward the Half Dome spur we met a large group on their way back to their base camp.   Seems that the area we stayed in is often used by those who climb the dome.  This group must have left camp around 4 in the morning to climb the rock.  I’m sure Half Dome is a neat experience, it just wasn’t on our itinerary.  Remember, as they say on the A.T. –  “hike your own hike”.

DSC_0023

As we passed the spur trail to Half Dome, we started seeing a lot of people.  Alas, the splendor and solitude of the JMT started to fade.  Within the next 30-45 minutes, we would come across more people than we had seen all week.  It’s probably the main reason we don’t do the main attractions, too many people.

Continuing through Little Yosemite Valley, it seemed like a decent place to camp, but looked crowded.   We have enjoyed the ability to pick out our own campsite on the JMT.   The Merced River came up beside the trail and the smell of jasmine filled the air.  Well, I thought it was jasmine, but they were probably fragrant mountain dogwoods with beautiful white flowers.

_DSC0047

The Merced at this point was leveling out prior to the leap over Nevada Fall, and it was deceitfully calm.  Clear with a slight green tint, this water has traveled many miles from its’ snowy origin.  We passed the junction to Vernal Falls and the Mist Trail and emerged on solid granite.  Dropping our packs, we removed our shoes and dipped our feet in the cool waters.  Some adventurous souls were wading out into the river.  We were probably two hundred yards from the precipice, but it still unnerved me to see people in the water.  Almost every year, someone gets too close and is swept over the edge.  On the other side of the Merced River, a foreign tourist had climbed down and was within 6 feet of the edge.  This was surely a Darwin Award candidate so I took his picture.

We filtered some more water as the day hikers watched.  One gentleman asked me if it was safe to drink.  I explained that if it was filtered, yes.   After a while, my brother and I ventured over and took some pics.  The whirling cascade just puts you in awe of the power.  John Muir captured this with eloquence:

The Nevada is white from its first appearance as it leaps out into the freedom of the air. At the head it presents a twisted appearance, by an overfolding of the current from striking on the side of its channel just before the first free out-bounding leap is made. About two thirds of the way down, the hurrying throng of comet-shaped masses glance on an inclined part of the face of the precipice and are beaten into yet whiter foam, greatly expanded, and sent bounding outward, making an indescribably glorious show, especially when the afternoon sunshine is pouring into it.

DSC_0815

“The Nevada”

Ready to complete our journey, we got back on the trail and began the longest stretch to the valley floor below.  I’m not sure why it seemed long, maybe because we were mentally finished.  The stretch from Nevada to the valley was tough on our tired feet.

The scene at Vernal Fall bridge was chaotic.  People, like ants milled about seemingly without direction.  At least ants have a purpose.  We just wanted to get through the throngs of people so we trudged on.  I am sure that we looked haggard after a week on the trail, but it felt good to be near the end.

DSC_0025_2

Vernal Fall

The asphalt sidewalk on the Mist Trail was another reminder that we were back in civilization.  It felt awkward to walk on it with our poles clacking about.   “Move over people, make a hole, real hikers coming through!”  I wanted to say that, but my subconscious did not prevail.

At the end, the sign that lists the various trails was our last photo-op.  While the sign showed 211 miles for the JMT, we actually only did our 68 mile section.  It still felt good and I was proud of my wife and brother for completing it.

DSC_0029

The shuttle ride from Happy Isles to the Visitor Center was tough.  Throngs of people made their way on the shuttle and we were separated from my brother.  We eventually found each other and enjoyed a good sandwich from the deli.  The YARTS bus stop is across from the Visitor Center.  In the summer, it leaves once daily at 5 p.m.  from the valley and makes multiple stops on the way to Mammoth Lakes.  For $18, it was a wonderful ride, comfortable with amazing scenery.  Google YARTS and you will find the various schedules.

2012-05-16 new yarts waterfall

This was a good way to get back to our car in Mammoth.

DSC_0045

Emery Lake from the YARTS bus.

For the next few weeks, the memories of the trip would resurface and we would laugh about things that happened.  It was an amazing journey and one that created great memories.  I did push my brother and wife hard on this trip, but they persevered and made it through.  It doesn’t take an athlete to do backcountry hiking.  It takes a desire to explore and the ability to push yourself a bit beyond your limits.

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07

YouTube slide show of our trip:

Part I – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

Part II – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zHwNLPY6A


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 6 – Cathedral to Half Dome

DSC_0646

The clouds would burst into color at sunset. Looking north from Lower Cathedral Lake.

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938)

The day at Lower Cathedral was most enjoyable.  While my brother determined that there were no brook or rainbow trout in this part of the lake, we enjoyed watching the sky as clouds would form and morph into a variety of shapes.  One could spend hours lying on their back watching the afternoon cumulus formations come and go.

Alas, we had a goal in mind.  Another 20 or so miles to go between today and tomorrow.  At 9,400 feet and heading into Yosemite Valley it is mostly downhill for us.  A climb out of Cathedral and up to Long Meadow and then our toes would be in for a beating.

As we neared Upper Cathedral, a sign detoured us away from the meadow near the lake.  Years of overuse and erosion had taken its’ toll on this area.  Am pretty sure you can camp here, but the JMT was rerouted a quarter-half mile to the east.

A neat thing about hiking is that depending on the direction you are going, the views can be drastically different.  Occasionally, we would look over our shoulders to catch a glimpse of where we have been.  Cathedral Peak and the upper lake were prominent as we climbed Cathedral Pass.  Farther to the north, we caught glimpses of Pettit Peak and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River.

DSC_0673

Upper Cathedral Lake, Cathedral Peak.

We entered Long Meadow and were rewarded with a nice respite of flatness and views of the surrounding peaks.  Man, the vistas just never stop here.  If you only have 2-3 days, I would recommend the area between Cathedral and Sunrise Camp. If you have 4-5 days, a loop including Merced and Vogelsang High Sierra Camp looks awesome.

DSC_0682

Long Meadow

A last climb and we would see the rest of the Cathedral Range including Vogelsang and Amelia Earhart Peaks.  We saw our first of what would be many mule trains around the Columbia Finger.  As they passed, we quietly watched and snapped some pics.  Most of the mules today were en route to one of the three local High Sierra camps including Sunrise, Merced and Vogelsang.  These beasts of burden carried between 150-200 lbs of cargo.  Sure footed, they followed their leader at a steady pace.  It’s cool that this is still the primary means of resupply for the remote camps.

DSC_0712

The first of many pack mule trains.

DSC_0728

Is this 1913 or 2013?

As we made our way south, the view of the Cathedral Range opened up.

DSC_0697

We stopped for lunch near Sunrise Camp and filtered some water.   During this backcountry trip, we typically carried two liters since there was plenty of water. As we passed through the meadow near Sunrise, we began a gradual descent through a burned area and saw Half Dome for the first time.  Entering a thickly wooded area, the downhill was steeper and the views diminished.  Several southbound hikers asked about available water.  It’s important to have maps that show the various creeks and streams.  While water was generally abundant, there were many areas where the vernal streams were dry.

Using an excerpt from the JMT guide that showed potential campsites, I started scanning for a suitable location.  I saw movement to my right and initially thought that it was another deer.  It was big and moving slowly.  Hey, a bear!  It was about 75-100 ft. away and rooting around a log.  Glancing over its’ shoulder at us, the bruin ignored us and continued to dig.  It appeared to be an old brown bear around 300 lbs.  We snapped a few photos and moved on.

DSC_0761

Blurry pic of a brown bear on the JMT/PCT. This was about 2 miles south of Half Dome.

Within 10 minutes, we located a site to camp with a view of Half Dome.  This was a busy area, mainly used by campers as a staging area for climbing the rock.  Most of the other campers were out of sight, but you could hear them as well as see the smoke from various campfires.

DSC_0794

This had been a long day and we had one last dinner on the trail.  We started a small fire and enjoyed the peacefulness.

DSC_0726

Sadly, tomorrow would be the end of our seven-day trek. I was getting used to this camping stuff, but looked forward to a real shower. Well, that and maybe a cheeseburger.

Links to a slide show of the hike:

Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

Part II http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zHwNLPY6A


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 5 – Tuolumne to Lower Cathedral Lake

DSC_0528

Lower Lake Cathedral outlet is one of many that feed Tenaya Lake 1,300 ft. below.

“Going to the mountains is going home.”
― John Muir

On July 4th, we decided to take a pseudo-zero day and hike up to Lower Cathedral Lake where we would relax.  We passed by the Tuolumne Grill in the a.m. and got a wonderful bacon, egg and cheese biscuit.  A quick shuttle to the Cathedral trailhead and we began the relatively short 3.5 mile hike to Lower Cathedral Lake.  Short yes, easy no.  (I left out the part where I almost took out a tourist’ eye on the shuttle with my hiking pole.)  Lesson learned:  When getting on the shuttles/buses, wear your pack, don’t try to carry it.

This is probably the most popular trail with day hikers in the Tuolumne area.  As you near the lake you enter into a meadow and are in the shadow of Cathedral Peak.  There are several creeks feeding the lake.  Most day hikers stop on the eastern shore; we would continue on the north side of the lake and head west to the far end.   We were rewarded with a lakefront campsite and plenty of solitude.  Tip – get there early in the day for your choice of sites.

DSC_0463

After setting up our camp and eating lunch, we did chores.  My brother took one of his waterproof clothing bags and filtered some lake water.  Oila, a washing machine!   Dump the dirty water at least 100 ft. away from the lake and fill the bag with clean filtered water for rinsing.  It was labor intensive, but the clothes came out smelling clean.  We used  Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable Magic Soap and it was great.   I’ve used the peppermint soap in the past which can be used for bathing too.  A clothesline between two dead trees and we were set.  One biohazard Mary discovered was that the bees liked the aroma of the lavender soap on the clothes while they dried.   I had some insect bite/sting paste in my 1st aid kit that does wonders for those stings.  

DSC_0639

Enjoying the sunset on Lower Cathedral Lake.

At the far end of Lower Cathedral Lake, the water is warmer in the shallows of the shore.  No fish in this lake that we could see.  We ventured to the western edge where the lake’s outlet is and viewed Tenaya Lake 1,300 ft. below.   The flows from Cathedral are one of many that make their way to the glacier made Tenaya.   The Yosemite Indians actually called it Pywiack, meaning shining rock.  The white man renamed it Tenaya after the Indian chief who fled here from soldiers one spring.

DSC_0643

Sunset on Cathedral Peak

We would enjoy the remainder of our day at Lower Cathedral.  Our Independence Day celebration concluded with fireworks presented by God.  The sky to the west of the lake was most spectacular.  I highly recommend spending the night here.  Bring mosquito head nets and some bug repellant, as it can get a bit buggy.

DSC_0630

Now this is a 4th of July show.

DSC_0650

As the world turned during our peaceful night, the sun would greet us by silhouetting Cathedral. What a glorious place.

Tomorrow, we are determined to put in some mileage.  Tonight, we would sleep soundly in the quiet surroundings of another lake.

Links to a slide show of the hike:

Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

Part II http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zHwNLPY6A

John says it best:  ….Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 438.


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 4 – Donahue Pass to Tuolumne Meadows

DSC_0403

Lyell Canyon

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
― John Muir

This day should have been called “The Race to Tuolumne”.  It was July 3rd and we were trying to make it to the Tuolumne post office to retrieve our resupply package before it closed at 4. While a stop in Tuolumne Meadows would be nice, we didn’t want to spend the holiday on the 4th waiting around for a package.

Tuolumne Meadows is a great place to hang out, but a zero day around the Cathedral Lakes would be ideal.  Getting our usual late start, we were on the trail and looking forward to the flat paths of Lyell Canyon.  We had to drop around 500 ft. and enjoyed the relative shade of the pines as we followed the river.

DSC_0372

A pregnant doe grazing in the forest

We noticed a large deer grazing in the distance.  It was a pregnant doe who kept one eye on us, but wasn’t very concerned.  These creatures have few predators in Yosemite.

As the terrain flattened out, we picked up the pace and the sun was beaming down.  It was hot as the path meandered in and out of the forest.  To our left, Amelia Earhart Peak loomed over us.  We would see this ridge from another angle as the trail would do a horseshoe after Tuolumne.  Distant rumblings of early afternoon thunderstorms were behind  and to the west of us.  We passed an area where day hikers from Tuolumne had gathered around a nice area on the river.  The number of people increased as we closed in on Tioga Road.

DSC_0364

As we neared Tuolumne, the thunder was more frequent and louder.  A fairly close crack of thunder prompted us to spread out a bit as we picked up the pace.  Occasional large splatters of rain filtered down through the pines.  We crossed a couple of foot-bridges where the Lyell Fork neared the main branch of the Tuolumne River.  We emerged in the parking lot near the lodge and started walking down the road.  It was strange to be in civilization after days on the trail.

DSC_0432

A local worker from the Tuolumne Meadows store graciously gave us a ride to the post office.  As we pulled into the parking area, the scene was chaotic.  Tourists and hikers were like ants swarming around the store.  It took a few minutes to absorb the busy surroundings.  Near the road was a collection of picnic tables where thru-hikers lounged around.  A family sat at one of the tables listening to a PCT hiker expound on his trail life.   It was like storytime at the preschool.  Other hikers were going through their resupply packages.

We would get some refreshments and pick up our packages at the window.  The post office here was a small room with a window on the outside of the store.  The clerk was friendly and politely asked if we could open our packages over where the thru-hikers were.  We obliged, and noticed the grill.  The thought of  cheeseburgers and fries was too much.  We gave in to our cravings and enjoyed the greasy goodness.  Mmmmm.

tuolumne store

Tuolumne Store, Post Office, Grill. (photo credit-tahoewhitney.com)

We made our way to the backpackers camp.  It’s first come first serve and $5 per camper.  We found out how many hikers are moochers and “stealth camp”.  You know the ones who are too cheap to pay the fee.  Bathrooms are at a premium here – only one within walking distance of the camp and it was uber-busy.  Bring a flashlight, no electricity in these rustic restrooms.

At 8:00 p.m. a ranger hosts a campfire in the amphitheater near the backpacker’s camp. Ranger Sally provided an excellent presentation of Yosemite history and we learned a lot about owls.  We really enjoyed hanging out and laughing at other campers who participated in the campfire.

DSC_0338

One of 7 sunrises.

Even though Tuolumne Meadows was much lower in altitude than our previous campsites, it was the coolest night yet.  Temps dipped into the 40’s as we snuggled deep in our sleeping bags.  Tomorrow, we would head up to Cathedral and enjoy some downtime.

For a slideshow of the part 1 of the hike, you can go here:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg